China brings up WeChat, TikTok in US trade talks

14 August, 2020 12:00 AM printer

China brings up WeChat, TikTok in US trade talks

NEW YORK: US and Chinese negotiators plan to discuss progress of their trade deal in the coming days, with Beijing pushing to widen the agenda to include Washington’s recent crackdown on businesses including TikTok and WeChat.

A virtual meeting will likely take place as soon as this week though a date hasn’t been finalized, according to people familiar with preparations for the talks who asked not to be named. President Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser on Tuesday downplayed concerns the phase-one agreement will fall apart.

Along with agricultural purchases and the dollar-yuan exchange rate, Chinese officials intend to bring up Trump’s prospective bans on transactions with the two apps on national security grounds, the people said without elaborating about what China hopes to achieve by doing so.

Almost seven months after a White House signing ceremony paused a tariff war that had roiled the global economy, Beijing’s pledged purchases of US goods are far behind schedule. The coronavirus crisis and the deterioration in US-China relations on everything from tech security to Hong Kong has left trade a rare area of cooperation.

The “one area we are engaging is trade,” Larry Kudlow, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, said at a White House press conference Tuesday. “It’s fine right now.”

At a briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China’s position on phase one remains consistent. TikTok, he said, “is just a platform for providing entertainment, leisure, the show of talents and sharing for American people and people around the world. It has nothing to do with national security.”

In the US, Trump’s treatment of China is emerging as a political weapon for Democrats trying to unseat him in November. It was three years ago this month that the Trump administration initiated an investigation into China’s treatment of US intellectual property that would help form the foundation of a trade war that would lead to tariffs on some $500 billion in products shipped between the world’s largest economies.

Now, less than three months before Trump’s re-election bid, the pandemic that originated in China has his administration struggling to find the balance between showing toughness and clinging to an agreement that isn’t delivering on Beijing’s promises.

‘It’s About Farmers’Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Bloomberg Television this week that “it’s amazing that despite the storm that is now the US-China relationship, neither Trump or Xi Jinping really want to junk the phase-one deal.”

“For Trump, in a word, it’s about farmers—the sales that they can make for red states in this election,” Kennedy said, referring to rural strongholds for Republicans.